The art on display at Ameci Pizza Kitchen in Camarillo Village Square isn’t your typical pizza place decor. They have an entire wall featuring the work of a prolific local artist, David Idell, whose painting style is bold, bright, and beloved by Ameci customers.
What sets Idell apart? He has a developmental disability.
Idell was one of the original members of Kindling Studios, a working art studio located in Old Town Camarillo as a program within a larger organization called Reid’s Gift. Created in 2013 in honor of Reid Brian Thompson, an inspiring young man with Autism who passed away, Reid’s Gift provides services to adults and teens with developmental disabilities. Kindling Studios is one of these programs, and resides within the Studio Channel Islands nonprofit. This location imbeds Kindling Studios within a coalition of other local artists, galleries, and studios, creating a valuable sense of community and inspiration for its members.
One of the core principles of Reid’s Gift states that, “All people, regardless of diagnosis, spoken language skills, conservatorship status, or any other factor, can and should direct their own lives.” This philosophy extends to each of the 24 artists at Kindling Studios who all either have down syndrome, autism, or another developmental disability, but are thriving entrepreneurial artists honing their craft and selling their work.
Idell’s success as an artist within the community speaks to the importance and impact of Kindling Studios.
“When David first started the program, although he had been getting commissions, selling his work for money was something that was new,” explains Tina Ebsen, the Program Director of Reid’s Gift whose main focus is Kindling Studios. “So he would bring in these canvases and we would ask him to write, ‘I will sell this painting for money’ on the canvas.” Soon these words came to fruition as people began buying his paintings and praising his talent. “Once he started getting in the flow of getting money for his work, he was so happy that this was actually a thing that he could do,” says Ebsen.
The founder of Reid’s Gift, Molly K. Rearick, has devoted her entire career to advocating for adults with developmental disabilities like Idell. In an article by VCReporter she explains that once students with disabilities graduate from high school or age out by turning 22, they are dependent on state-funded services for community involvement. At this point she says they are often “relegated to center-based programs or group homes that focus on those adults’ perceived weaknesses rather than on strengths, and those adults are segregated from the larger community.”
Reid’s Gift and Kindling Studios were created as a direct response to the lack of meaningful services available to this underserved sect of the population.
Kindling Studios aims to provide its artists with more than just skills in the arts. On top of classes in painting, drawing, photography, graphic design, ceramics, weaving, felting, sewing, quilting, and more, Kindling Studios teaches its artists what they refer to as the “Business of Art,” where they learn the entrepreneurial skills necessary to sell their work and market themselves. The artists are taught how to create and run an Etsy shop to sell their work online, which requires a mastery of inventory and processing payments.
Ebsen emphasizes that their artists have ambitious goals and serious intentions. “They’re not just coming in thinking about, ‘I enjoy doing arts and crafts, I’d like to just sit with other people and create this because there’s nothing better to do with my day.'” She continues, “These are people who identify as artists and this is the profession they want to pursue.”
The prosperity of Kindling Studios is undeniable and can be seen directly within the Camarillo community. As part of its partnership with the Ventura County Arts Council, there’s a display case at the Pacific View Mall in Ventura for Kindling Studios’ artists to present and sell their work. “It’s really incredible for them to have their work on public display,” says Ebsen. “They have this sense of accomplishment and feeling valued a member of their community.”
“One of the biggest misunderstandings that we come across is that people assume that because a person has autism or down syndrome that that really limits their ability to do amazing things,” say Ebsen. “What we push here is this presumption of confidence. People are able, when you challenge them, to rise up and actualize their potential.”
Kindling Studios is determined to help its members become fully realized artists and engaged community members, both creatively and economically. Most importantly though, they demand respect for their artists. “Art plays such an important role in the lives of the artists that are here,” concludes Ebsen. “For a lot of them, it may be there only means to really express themselves.”
Also published on Medium.